Bellagio deal spurs Las Vegas memories
Bellagio deal spurs Las Vegas memories
28 OCTOBER 2019 7:29 AM

With the pending sales of Las Vegas’ Bellagio and Circus hotels, and Oyo Hotels & Homes taking over Hooters’ hotel-casino there, changes are coming to Vegas, but that has always been the way.

From the safety of my London office and my coverage of the European, Middle Eastern, Asian and African (that is, non-American) hotel industry, I have the courage to state I simply do not get Las Vegas.

I like the monorail train, and once I made sure I visited every station, which all pretty much lie along the Las Vegas Strip; I discovered an exhibition of mobiles by Alexander Calder at the 6,852-room MGM Grand, which was excellent; on a hard-hat tour of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center I saw a male Gambrel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii) scuttle across its dusty floor and which at the time was a new species for me for my U.S. bird list, so there are some fond memories, and once, having very long hair at the time, I was offered a job fighting the British Revolutionary War armada as one of the U.S. patriots in the 3,204-room Treasure Island Hotel & Casino outdoor spectacular, “Battle of Buccaneer Bay,” despite being British and having the accent to go with that.

The rest of the city I do not fathom, although the food in some of its restaurants is very, very good.

Millions do understand it, though, and you cannot argue with feet on hotel forecourts and greenbacks going back and forth across casino tables and into bars and restaurants.

This month, Blackstone Group bought the 3,950-room Bellagio for approximately $4.2 billion in a sales-and-leaseback deal that will see MGM Resorts International retain 5% ownership and pay an annual rent of just a little less than $250 million, and the sibling Circus Las Vegas was agreed to be bought for $825 million by an affiliate connected to Phil Ruffin, who also owns Treasure Island.

So, if I had gone all Benedict Arnold, albeit in the opposite direction, and sided with the Americans in the Vegas light-and-sound extravaganza, Ruffin would have been my boss.

Real estate evidently follows travel trends and preferences.

One of my biggest memories of my first visit to Las Vegas—at the time I covered gaming/gambling destinations such as Tupelo, Mississippi Biloxi and Gulfport, Alabama, and Reno, Nevada, for a magazine out of Secaucus, New Jersey—was taking a direct flight from New York on Las Vegas-based National Airlines.

This dates me, as National ceased operations in 2002 (that said, it only debuted in 1999) and the Battle of Buccaneer Bay ended the following year.

On the plane all was silent initially, but as we crept closer and closer to the Nevadan desert, the noise volume increased tremendously, mostly mildly heated conversations on what was the best way of “doing Vegas.”

“Start here,” passengers said, “and then have lunch there before heading to that place before ending at another. On the second day, start…”

“No!” said a complete stranger sitting behind the original conversationalists, “that is just going about it all the wrong way, and mark my words all will end in disaster,” and thus began his or her account of having the perfect vacation. This was probably in the era when people were allowed to stand in the aisle, or walk up and down it to visit others, and listening to three or four simultaneous conversations produced a wonderful accumulation of accents, agendas and acclamations.

I was excited when I landed, but the city has never quite lived up for me to that early promise.

It is impossible to walk anywhere, and a limousine trip—lots of very kind people there insist you get into them—even to a hotel across The Strip takes forever, as all the traffic is on one road, and they seemingly do not allow vehicles to turn across traffic. Cars instead have to perform elaborate routes around and around intricate clover-leaf patterns.

And as I do not cover the Americas, I have just now seen that Oyo Hotels & Homes made its first foray into Las Vegas in August by partnering with real estate investment and hospitality management company Highgate for the 657-room Hooters Casino Hotel. Oyo is slated to rebrand it into the Oyo Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, thanks to its considerable backing from Japanese band Softbank and others.

I stayed at Hooters on my last visit to Vegas, as I was to meet my friend Alex at the MGM Grand for dinner before we headed the next morning to Arizona, where on the following day we ran across and back across the Grand Canyon.

Hooters I chose because it was the closest hotel to the sold-out MGM.

Friends teased me about my choice, referring to its staff in its restaurants as scantily clad, but I pointed out that is not the case at the former Vegas hotel, where the amount of flesh on show was zero, which cannot be said of many of the other hotel-casinos in the city.

I do not know if they believed me.

If they continue teasing me, I’ll visit them with my American warrior-brethren from the Battle of Buccaneer Bay!

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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